|Born: June 21, 1981
Height: 6′ 4″
Drafted: 14th Round, 444th Overall, 1999
How Acquired: Minor League FA
High School: Andrew HS (Tinley Park, IL)
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Jones was originally drafted by Atlanta, but was released after failing to get out of rookie ball in the three years. The Twins signed him and he struggled for two more years, then suddenly broke out in AA. He adjusted slowly to AAA, though, and the Twins outrighted him after the 2008 season. He became a minor league free agent after the 2008 season and the Pirates signed him to a minor league deal. He has prodigious power, but apart from an amazing half-season in 2009, hasn’t hit consistently in the majors. He’s had almost no success against LHPs, hitting only 199/237/364 against them while hitting 275/354/483 against RHPs. Despite his size, he runs well once underway and is a threat to steal occasionally. A first baseman most of his career, he’s played a lot in right for the Pirates. He’s below average at both positions. He has a decent arm in the outfield, but he’s prone to making wild throws from first base.
Debuted in rookie ball and hit very little, striking out in a quarter of his ABs.
Moved up to the advanced rookie Pioneer League and struggled even more, whiffing 40% of the time.
Returned to the Pioneer League and improved his numbers, although his walk and K rates remained very bad. The Braves released him the following May.
The Twins signed Jones a few days after the Braves released him and sent him to low A, where he played part-time. He resumed struggling, although he did start showing some power for the first time, with ten HRs in 63 games. He continued striking out in well over a third of his ABs while drawing few walks.
The Twins moved him up to high A and he still didn’t hit, aside from the occasional HR. He did make progress with his walk and K rates.
Promoted to AA after posting just a .649 OPS in three weeks in high A, Jones had a huge breakout. His plate discipline, though, remained poor.
Didn’t adjust well to AAA, again aside from hitting some HRs.
Had a very similar year to 2005, although he improved his walk rate a little. For the first time, he started seeing meaningful playing time in the outfield.
Jones made some progress in AAA, apparently by sacrificing some HR power to make better contact. He cut his K rate to once every five ABs. The Twins called Jones up for several stints totaling 31 games.
Spent the entire year in AAA and had his best year there. For the first time in his career, he got his BB:K ratio down to 1:2.
Now with the Pirates, Jones hit very well in spring training, but had no real chance to make the team due to an overload of LH-hitting corner players. He spent the first half of the season at Indianapolis and improved there, even doing very well as a base stealer. Opportunity arrived when the Pirates traded Eric Hinske and Jones became an immediate sensation. He hit ten HRs in his first nineteen games and ultimately led all major league rookies, and the Pirates, in HRs with 21 in just 82 games. He also led all rookies who had more than 115 ABs in slugging and OPS. Oddly, he had a significantly better BB:K ratio than he’d generally had in the minors. He struggled with runners in scoring position, posting just a .548 OPS. Jones split his time between right and first, and also played some in left. Where he played depended mainly on whether Steve Pearce was at first.
Jones opened the season in right, later moving to first when Jeff Clement flopped. His hitting was a disappointment and his plate discipline slipped. He had a decent first half, fueled by an OPS of .904 in June. He collapsed after that, posting OPS figures of .699, .522 and .693 over the last three months. With the rest of the top five hitters in the Pirates’ order (Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez) all performing decently or better, Jones’ presence in the cleanup spot was the single biggest reason the Pirates’ offense remained abysmal in the second half. A lot of the trouble was the team’s reluctance, which stretches back to the previous regime, to consider platooning. Jones hit just 220/261/360 against LHPs, but the Pirates persisted all year in starting him every day against them. Jones also struggled to adjust to the way he was being pitched, which consisted of pitches away alternating with pitches low and inside. He consistently hit the pitches away for weak flies to left and the pitches low and in, which he couldn’t lay off, for grounders to the first- or secondbaseman. Jones improved defensively in right and probably played better there than at first. His height is an advantage at the latter spot, but he doesn’t have good range on grounders and, as noted, has trouble making throws.
With Lyle Overbay unfortunately signed to play first, Jones went into the season in a rightfield platoon with Matt Diaz. The Pirates largely stuck with the platoon, although Jones was forced to start a few games against LHPs due to injuries. He stayed in right except in August, when Overbay had been released and his replacement, Derrek Lee, was hurt. Jones’ hitting improved a little more than it seems from the numbers, as offense was down all over. His OPS+ improved from 94 to 107. The improvement resulted from Jones being platooned: he hit a solid 262/346/462 against RHPs and just 167/233/241 against LHPs.
With Jones eligible for arbitration in the off-season, there was considerable speculation that he’d be non-tendered, but that didn’t happen. He opened the season in a first base platoon with Casey McGehee and ended up having a year nearly as good as his rookie year. His time ended up being divided evenly between first and right, as McGehee played regularly for long stretches and, later, Gaby Sanchez sometimes played first against RHPs. Jones was mostly platooned, but occasionally started against LHPs due to injuries. Jones didn’t get off to a great start, as for some reason he almost completely stopped walking. He had just three walks and fanned 33 times in April and May, and had just a .696 OPS. The rest of the way he had 30 walks and 70 Ks. Overall he had a .532 OPS against LHPs, although this resulted largely from an 0-for-24 start against them. In his last 50 ABs he hit well against LHPs, but that’s too small a sample size to show he’s improved against them.
Jones was eligible for arbitration again and agreed beforehand to a $4.5M contract. The obvious move is for the team to platoon him with Sanchez, but Clint Hurdle was non-committal about that. Hopefully, the Pirates won’t end up in a situation where younger players like Starling Marte and Travis Snider lose playing time because Hurdle doesn’t think veterans like Jones and Sanchez should be platooned. There’s also no way to be sure whether Jones’ improvement in 2012 will hold. So far, he’s had two good years, one mediocre and one poor.
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 1999
MLB Debut: 5/15/2007
MLB FA Eligible: 2016
Added to 40-Man: 6/30/2009
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2005, 2006, 2007)
MLB Service Time: 3.158
|June 2, 1999: Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 14th round, 444th overall pick; signed on June 18.
May 21, 2002: Released by the Atlanta Braves.
May 24, 2002: Signed by the Minnesota Twins as a free agent.
November 17, 2004: Contract purchased by the Minnesota Twins.
February 27, 2008: Signed by the Minnesota Twins as a free agent.
December 22, 2008: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent.
June 30, 2009: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.